Jun 24, 2021 - News

Downward trend in Arkansas HIV diagnoses not necessarily good sign

Data: Arkansas HIV Surveillance Report. Chart: Axios Visuals

HIV diagnoses in Arkansas have been trending downward for years, but that's not necessarily a positive sign. Tiffany Vance, infectious disease branch chief at Arkansas Department of Health, tells Axios she'd like to see more testing to catch the virus earlier.

Why it matters: As we learned last year with COVID-19, the more you test, the more you find. Diagnosing HIV is key to providing medical treatment and preventing its unintended spread.

  • Stigma and lack of awareness about how HIV is transmitted continue to be a challenge for the medical community in tracking cases.

Driving the news: The latest report from the CDC says there were 287 people in Arkansas diagnosed with HIV in 2019. That's up from 240 in 2018. But still signifies a downward five-year trend.

  • According to the report, 22 of those people live in the NWA metro area.

Context: That's a rate of 11.4 per 100,000 people in Arkansas. For comparison, the national rate is 13.2 and the rate for southern states is 15.2.

Yes, but: The actual number of cases is likely higher, due to a lag in reporting between the Arkansas Department of Health and the CDC. ADH reports to CDC at the end of each year, but the state continues to revise the numbers, comparing notes with neighboring states to confirm residency.

  • For the past several years, ADH's numbers have been 20% to 39% higher once its follow-up research is complete.
  • The numbers in Arkansas' annual HIV Surveillance Report — used in the chart above — more accurately reflect the state of HIV diagnoses here, Vance says.

At risk: Of those diagnosed in 2018 (the most recent year for ADH data), almost 56% were Black, and nearly 8% were Hispanic. White people made up 34.3%.

  • Men who have sex with men are still a high-risk category, making up 59% of those diagnosed that year.

Vance said the ADH has been working to increase awareness about the importance of HIV testing and diagnosis, citing $200,000 awarded to the state by the CDC in 2019.

  • "With the additional resources we're putting into the state, we may see the numbers start to increase some, just because we're identifying more individuals who need to be tested to know they're HIV positive," she says.

Of note: June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. Go here to learn about testing services available in Arkansas.


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